I hope I can talk about this bizarre cartoon without coming across as a stereotypical male regarding menstruation, i.e. as confused and frightened by the intricacies of the female body, visibly cringing at the mere mention of words like “period” or “tampon.” Female readers: I assure you, it’s really not the menstruation aspect of this video that freaks me out! (Okay, well maybe when the womb is described by the creepy narrator as a “hollow, pear-shaped organ.” That part kind of freaked me out.)
No, it’s more that I’m disturbed by the portrait of femininity painted by this “Walt Disney Production through the Courtesy of Kotex Products,” a sexless 1946 educational video shown in schools throughout the country. The video’s main thrust is to assure girls that they will be able to carry on their lives as usual during their period, provided that said lives consist of dusting the living room, looking in the mirror, and going on dates. Disney’s thoughts on what it means to be a woman (in 1940s America, at least) are more revealingly depicted in this 10-minute video than in endless reels of fairy tale movies. Personally, it’ll be hard for me to think of animated Disney classics like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “Cinderella” again without mentally recalling the phrase, “Mother Nature controls many of our routine bodily processes through automatic control centers called glands.” Sweet dreams, kids! And don’t forget to thank the tiny robots that live inside your reproductive system!
(I suppose I should note that I was also slightly perturbed by the animated close-ups of “the flow we know as menstruation” passing through a uterus like an uneaten runny egg sliding off a Denny’s plate and into an awaiting trash receptacle. But I attribute this reaction to the same bodily horror that makes me terrified of surgery videos; I don’t enjoy seeing people’s insides. Or, maybe I’m not so different than the stereotypical male I casually disparaged above. Well, regardless, most likely you’ve already stopped reading and are just watching the video.)
Alarmingly, I did actually learn some things while watching “The Story of Menstruation.” As I’ve noted before, I never paid particularly close attention during health class. So, for instance, my ears perked up when Disney thankfully debunked the myths that woman shouldn’t shower or exorcise during their period. Unfortunately, no information was provided regarding the beliefs that women shouldn’t listen to music or chop garlic during their period. You’ll have to consult your physician on that one, I guess.
But, I know what you must be wondering – what of Disney’s stance on menstrual pain? Please, Walt, we implore you to share your wisdom! Well, as the video shows a menstruating girl weeping intensely from pain, our narrator intones: “But don’t let it get you down. After all, no matter how you feel, you have to live with people. You have to live with yourself too! And once you stop feeling sorry for yourself and take those days in your stride, you’ll find it’s easier to keep smiling and even-tempered.” The girl’s mirrored image, as if reflected from the very pupil of society’s watchful eye, poses and smiles as the actual girl continues weeping. Disney never was one for subtlety.
Soon after, the narrator, perhaps sounding like many a viewer’s mother, suddenly reprimands, “And do something about that slouch! Sloppy posture is just as bad inside as it looks outside. So stand up straight and let the organs function from the position nature intended!” Health and physical appearance are one united front. Look good, feel good. Brush your hair. Smile. Pass an egg through your uterus. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect $200.
Disney’s final advice? “It’s smart to keep looking smart,” explains the narrator as we’re once again treated to a shot of a girl contemplating herself in a mirror, this time applying makeup. “That well-groomed feeling will give you new poise and lift your morale!” And the obsession with physical appearance lived happily ever after! Hooray!